It is impossible to find the right words to convey how magical it was to walk the streets of these ancient towns, not really knowing where we were; new discoveries were at every turn. The light shifted. The narrow street widened into a piazza. Someone was feeding the stray cats. You could smell someone else’s lunch. Maybe there was a hint of a breeze. A motorbike went by, just inches away from walls, pedestrians. And, once, as the street turned into a piazzetta, a madonna observed all the happenings.
Over at the Valley of the Temples, I tried some minimalist shots, with mostly sky in the frame.
And then, a few days later, as we walked through the ancient mountain-top town of Caltabellotta*, I tried again, this time with laundry.
*It’s one of the oldest occupied towns in Sicily, with origins dating back 2000 years before Common Era. There’s evidence of Sicani, Greek, Arab, Norman, and Jewish heritage here.
What a place this was – the Valley of the Temples, an array of 4th and 5th century BCE temples near the modern (and also ancient) Sicilian town of Agrigento. The temples were built by ancient Greeks, but were re-purposed over the centuries by Carthaginians and Romans; it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temples play homage to the Greek gods and goddesses as well as the deities of subsequent cultures. (This site gives a good summary of the history of the ruins.)
It was breathtaking to stand among these ancient places and to think about all the people who found this particular location to be important – for sacred reasons or for strategic ones. It was hard to photograph. That much history is hard to capture through a lens, and anyway, it’s been photographed a billion times and who am I to think I could see anything any differently than what all the photographers who were there before me had already seen and photographed.
For reasons known only to my brain (and it’s not letting out any information on the matter), shooting some minimalist images of the place seemed like the thing I needed to do. And so I did.
Valley of the Temples
What happened is that I went to Sicily.
I was fortunate to get to travel with a small group of photographers on a tour organized by Don Toothaker at Hunt’s Photo Education in conjunction with an outstanding tour operator, Allison Scola, the founder of Experience Sicily.
So many things happened while I was gone that I haven’t even really processed them yet.
I made new friends, solidified previous friendships, saw a part of the world I’d never seen before, ate delicious food. And, of course, made thousands of photos. I greatly expanded my photographic skills. I had some deeply personal experiences and revelations.
I don’t have the slightest clue on how to start presenting my experiences. I am worried that I’ll bore my reader(s) with endless photos and/or with endless narratives. I am worried that nothing I can say will convey how much I loved everything about the trip. I am worried that it’s going to sound all breathless and vapid, when in fact it was the opposite of vapid.
So I guess the best thing is to just jump right in.
Here’s a scene we discovered in Palermo one afternoon – we walked down some (very) narrow streets, and into a courtyard, and that’s where I spotted this. I don’t know what the building was or anything about what I photographed. But, to me, this is what Palermo looked like: each street a treasure, every turn enchanting, each view a surprise.
If you are driving through Carlinville, there’s a very good chance you’ll spot the 1860’s-era Macoupin County courthouse. It’s tall. It has a dome. It’s beautiful.
Or rather, it’s beautiful, as long as you don’t look at it closely. A close look reveals that things are worrisome over at the courthouse. The stone balusters are breaking apart, falling to pieces. There’s one place where the stairs have collapsed. Other places, pieces of the stone have just let go of the building. The longer you look, the more damage you see and the worse shape you understand the building is in.
It seemed like a metaphor for, well, a lot of things.